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End of the road for bus users' group serving Caithness

By Gordon Calder

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A DECISION to disband a local bus group was made "without telling anyone", it has been claimed.

Local campaigner and former Castletown community councillor Brenda Herrick was shocked to find out Caithness Bus Users' Group had come to the end of the road.

"I don't understand it," she said. "At first, I thought perhaps Stagecoach refused to come up to these meetings to be shouted at any more. I was told about the decision to disband the group but don't know who took it.

"I think this has been badly handled. There should have been a better way to inform the public. Bus issues can be raised at the Caithness Transport Forum meetings but they are not open to the public."

Mrs Herrick added: "There has not been a meeting of the group this year, as far as I know. I was told they were working on a new format for the meetings and were trying to set one up in June but nothing happened.

"There was so much criticism of the new X99 bus to Inverness I think Stagecoach did not want to face it.

Brenda Herrick: 'I feel that people have lost their voice when it comes to bus concerns.'
Brenda Herrick: 'I feel that people have lost their voice when it comes to bus concerns.'

"I feel that people have lost their voice when it comes to bus concerns and will no longer have a platform to express their views. And that, I think, will be detrimental to Caithness because of the problems we are having here with the buses.

"I was so shocked by the decision which seems to have been made without telling anyone.

"We need another bus users' group and I would hope that a new one could be set up early in the new year."

Caithness Bus Users' Group was run by Caithness Chamber of Commerce and was attended by senior representatives from Stagecoach, Highland councillors and members of the public. It gave people a chance to raise issues regarding local bus travel.

Chamber chief executive Trudy Morris stressed that those attending the meetings wanted an alternative model for the group. Much of the year was spent on that task.

She said: "It became clear that models that have worked well elsewhere – in Aberdeenshire, for example – are council-led.

"As a business membership organisation, we did not feel we were best placed to take the group forward along these lines and advised Stagecoach as the funders. We understand Stagecoach has since undergone a restructuring of its operations in the area, and are keen to meet with community councils to discuss bus services.

“Stagecoach has made it clear that it is not the only operator in the area and is not looking to pull the funding for the group, but that it is trying to find a way of getting more universal feedback from local communities.

"We understand the importance of a strong network of bus services within Caithness and to other destinations, and will continue to work with Stagecoach and other partners through the Caithness Transport Forum to enable this."

Caithness civic leader Willie Mackay, who attended the meetings regularly, was "really disappointed" to hear the news.

He said the meetings were very well supported by members of the public.

"I want to know why and who decided to axe this group," Councillor Mackay said. "It was a group that raised lots of concerns and members of the public were getting issues and concerns attended to.

"I'm really annoyed that such a decision has been made as this is the first I have heard about it and I'm not very happy and will be investigating the circumstances as soon as possible."

Stagecoach did not wish to comment.

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